Scientists from the salk Institute have learned how to reprogram cells from an open wound back in to healthy skin cells. They’ve isolated 4 proteins that are capable of transforming other cells in to Basal Kertinocytes, a precursor that leads to the development of healthy skin. The discovery could also bear implications for aging.
Surgery is currently being used to treat large cutaneous ulcers from severe burns bedsores or chronic disease. However, current skin grafting methods do not work well enough for sufficiently large wounds and the wait time required for growing a skin graft from the patients own stem cells requires significant risk on the part of the patient.
Instead Izpisua Belmonte and Masakazu Kurita from Salk Research Institute have come up with a way to convert red mesenchymal cells from under the skin, back in to basal keretinocytes, which are a form of precursor cell that differentiate in to all cells associated with the different layers of skin.
“Our observations constitute an initial proof of principle for in vivo regeneration of an entire three-dimensional tissue like the skin, not just individual cell types as previously shown,” says Salk Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, “This knowledge might not only be useful for enhancing skin repair but could also serve to guide in vivo regenerative strategies in other human pathological situations, as well as during aging, in which tissue repair is impaired.”
In the case of a deep enough wound, every layer of skin is severed and so the basal keretinocytes are either completely lost or few and far between leaving only the underlying mesenchymal cells. If left to it’s own accord this kind of wound will eventually heal albeit with more inflammation, and scarring. As ordinary skin cells begin to multiply they just sort of “bundle up” inside the wound the best they can with no concern for proper layering.
By figuring out how to replace the basal keretinocytes scientists have found a better way around an otherwise messy and slow healing process. The discovery was made by extensive trial and error. Researchers already knew there were 55 different proteins associated with basal keretinocytes so in order to figure out which ones were responsible for mediating conversion from mesenchymal cells they performed a lot of experiments until the group was narrowed down to 4 catalyzing factors.
Then by spreading a topological solution containing the 4 key factors over top of skin ulcers in a group of Mice they were able to grow healthy epithelial (skin) cells over the course of 18 days. When checked again at 3 and 6 months they behaved like healthy skin cells,.
“Before going to the clinic, we have to do more studies on the long-term safety of our approach and enhance the efficiency as much as possible,” says Kurita.